In an apparent attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown yesterday expressed his opposition to the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign to make marijuana legal in the state.
Mr. Brown, who is was in Monterrey for a conference, said legalizing the drug would open the flood gates for the ruthless and deadly Mexican drug cartels. "Every year we get more and more marijuana and every year we find more guys with AK-47's coming out of Mexico going into forests and growing more and more dangerous and losing control," Mr. Brown said.
For the purpose of this short post, I will not address in full here the idiocy of decrying the involvement of drug cartels in the marijuana trade while opposing a regulated system of distribution. Suffice it to say that burying your head in your ass the sand and hoping the drug war will eliminate drug cartels from the planet hasn’t been the most effective tactic over the past few decades. But this post is about politics, not policy. The problem for Brown is that he is potentially turning off hundreds of thousands of voters who will be showing up in November simply to vote to make marijuana legal. Many of these "green" voters don’t give a real hoot who the next governor of the state is, as long as they can purchase their recreational drug of choice safely, conveniently and legally. That said, single-issue marijuana voters tend to lean toward the Democratic side of the spectrum, so their votes would likely benefit Brown overall. The only thing that could reverse that likelihood is Brown dissing Proposition 19, as the initiative is now known. (Brown supporters should hope that the campaign is carefully studying polling data to determine his standing among individuals who will be turning out to vote because of the Tax Cannabis initiative.) Here is my political advice to Mr. Brown. From now on, if he is asked about Proposition 19, he should say, “I have some concerns about the initiative, which I hope could be addressed by the state legislature if it passes, but if I am elected to be the next governor of the state I certainly plan to respect the will of the people.” If he chooses to ignore this advice, he may be hearing or seeing – or simply feeling the effects of -- the following slogan in the fall: “Vote green, not Brown.”
I don’t mean to stereotype here, but if you are a member of the Alternet community, it is likely that you support marijuana policy reform. Heck, you may even enjoy using it every now and then. This is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Using marijuana is no different than drinking alcohol – except for the fact that marijuana is far less harmful. Odds are, however, your use of marijuana or your support of changing marijuana laws is not something you talk about as openly as, say, your love of a television show or a sports team. Because marijuana has been deemed taboo by mainstream society for so long, it is something we often keep under wraps. This is especially true when it comes to discussing the subject with our parents. For this reason, the newly established Women’s Marijuana Movement is encouraging people to participate in “Tell Your Mothers” Day. Timed to coincide with Mother’s Day, the goal is to provide individuals with an appropriate and thoughtful way to share their feelings about marijuana with their mothers. The e-card available on the WMM site (which you can send from the page) uses flash animation and starts with the following text:
Thank you for raising me to be thoughtful and compassionate, to think for myself and make good decisions, to respect my body and my health, to be considerate of others, and to be honest with those I love. Based in part on these valuable lessons, I want to share some news that may surprise you, but should not upset you: I believe marijuana should be legal.
If we are ever going to change marijuana laws in this country, we need to change people’s perceptions about the substance and get people to be more accepting and open about the subject. There is no better place to start than with your own mother. I hope you will take advantage of this unique opportunity by sending the e-card to your mom today.
Today, in the heart of Sin City, former Alaska governor, Republican vice presidential candidate, Fox News “analyst” and the darling of the Tea Party set Sarah Palin delivered a keynote address to attendees of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America’s convention. Might this be a sign that Palin is prepared to take up the fight for individual freedoms espoused by Ron Paul and other libertarian-leaning leaders of the Tea Party movement? One group in Nevada is testing this hypothesis by asking Palin to put her mouth where their money is. Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (a ballot advocacy group backed by my organization, the Marijuana Policy Project) has offered to pay Palin $25,000 to give a similar speech to marijuana policy reformers. Such a speech would convey a simple message: If we can defend and even celebrate the individual freedom to use alcohol, we should certainly allow individuals the freedom to use marijuana, a substance objectively less harmful than alcohol. The following quotes are from an advisory circulated by NSML:
“We see absolutely no reason why Ms. Palin would reject our offer,” said [NSML campaign manager Dave] Schwartz. “The health effects of the substance she is talking about at the WSWA convention causes 33,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. The comparable number for marijuana is zero. Alcohol is also associated with violent crime and other destructive acts, while marijuana is not. If Ms. Palin is comfortable endorsing that product, we are certain that she will endorse ours. “Let me make one thing clear. In making this offer, we are not intending to attack the alcohol industry or alcohol users,” continued Schwartz. “We are merely highlighting the fact that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol. It therefore makes no sense to keep marijuana in the criminal market, while a former vice presidential candidate celebrates the alcohol industry. We want legitimate businesspeople in Nevada to benefit from the sales of marijuana, and we want adults to be free to choose whichever substance they prefer – marijuana or alcohol – when they relax after work.”
I am sure there are many progressive readers of this blog who can think of nothing worse than having Sarah Palin associated with this cause (or any cause for that matter). That is not the point here. It is unlikely that Ms. Palin will endorse the use of marijuana. And it is probably less likely that she will accept a measly $25,000 for a speech. But by making this offer, NSML has underscored for the nation to see, the blatant hypocrisy that exists among our nation’s leaders, who embrace the alcohol industry while supporting laws that make criminals out of adults who simply choose to use a less harmful substance -- marijuana.
[Note: I co-authored this post with Mason Tvert of SAFER. He submitted it to Huffington Post two days ago, but it has not been posted yet, so I thought I would post a version here.] A week ago, I blogged about MTV’s Real World program and how it is almost a microcosm of society insofar as participants are banned from using marijuana and end up consuming copious amounts of alcohol instead. This excessive alcohol use, both on the show and in the real real world, repeatedly leads to acts of violence and other offensive and/or dangerous acts. Yet our laws – and the rules on the Real World – continue to steer people away from marijuana and toward alcohol, which is clearly a more dangerous drug. This week, the media world is buzzing with news of an alleged sexual assault by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The least surprising aspect of these reports is that the incident occurred at a club in which alcohol is served. We do not know at this point whether Big Ben was drinking or whether the alleged victim was drinking, but there have been reports that young women were recruited from the main part of the club back to a VIP room where the quarterback was holding court. One article noted that “free drinks” were part of the enticement. I don’t want to delve into whether a criminal act was or was not committed that night. That is for the legal system to determine. My reason for bringing up this incident is to point out how it is in some ways a result of the policies of the National Football League. Let’s assume for a second that no alleged sexual assault occurred that night. Would we ever have heard about Big Ben’s night out? Of course not. But what if, instead of trolling for young women, he had spent the evening chillin’ with friends, enjoying some marijuana, listening to tunes and shooting pool. A couple months later, we might have read – as we did after Ricky Williams made the “mistake” of using marijuana – that he had been suspended for four games for violating the league’s banned substance policy. This is the league’s policy. Go to a club and drink – No problem. Stay at home and enjoy a little marijuana – Get suspended. Every player in the league is aware of this policy. And just like every other red-blooded American, they are looking to have a little fun during their free time. If one source of fun is banned and the other is acceptable, they are going to choose the option that does not get them in trouble. But we see all too frequently that heading out to a club eventually results in trouble – from fights to sexual assaults and even shootings. I am not suggesting that the NFL ban alcohol or prohibit players from frequenting clubs. The players are adults and need to make smart decisions about their lives. If they screw up, that is their problem. But it would make a heck of a lot of sense if the NFL removed marijuana from its list of banned substances. Give players the option of making the safer choice when they relax, unwind or party. Sure, players who use marijuana might still get in trouble with local law enforcement. And if they do, they will have to deal with the consequences. But the NFL has no reason to blindly and ignorantly mimic the government’s irrational marijuana policies. At some point even the government will stop the insanity and will allow adults to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. For now, the NFL needs to adopt that policy itself.
Millions of reality show addicts around the nation are on the edges of their couches today waiting to learn the fate of Real World castmate Andrew, who was pushed off what looked like a fifteen-foot high wall onto the pavement below by a drunken housemate, Ty, at the end of last week’s episode.  Fortunately, we can assume from a few previews of the season, as well as the lack of media reports, that Andrew did not actually die as the result of this fall.  But that outcome is due more to luck than any precautions taken by the show’s producers.  In fact, their role in his injury could almost be characterized as contributory negligence. Anyone who has watched the Real World throughout its incredible 23-season run knows that alcohol is almost like the perennial eighth – or this year ninth – housemate.  It is present in almost every episode.  And if it were nominated for an Emmy it would be for a leading, not a supporting, role.  This was not always the case, of course.  In the earlier seasons, alcohol played a less significant role on the show.  But as with alcohol itself, the use of alcohol by cast members has become an intoxicating and addictive ingredient for producers. Why, as an advocate for marijuana policy reform, do I care about the drunken antics of reality show participants?  I am glad you asked.  The easiest way for me to explain is to share with you an excerpt from Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009).  As the title implies, the book examines the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol and questions why we, as a society, intentionally steer people toward the far more harmful substance.  The excerpt below is from the beginning of Chapter 7, which is, appropriately enough, entitled, “The Real-World Ramifications of Our Pro-Alcohol Culture,” and it uses the Real World to make a point about the real world. One final point before I post the excerpt: If you agree that Real World participants, and other reality show participants, like “Jersey Shore” cast members, should be able to make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, you can sign a petition put together by the organization SAFER and its executive director, Mason Tvert, a co-author (along with Paul Armentano of NORML and myself) of Marijuana is Safer.  As the petition says, it is time for MTV to stop driving cast members to drink and start getting real.
Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? Chapter 7: “The Real-World Ramifications of Our Pro-Alcohol Culture” Given the widespread popularity of both marijuana and alcohol as social and recreational intoxicants, it’s hardly surprising to discover that the two substances are potential substitutes for one another. Yet, our society steers citizens who might otherwise enjoy relaxing with cannabis toward the use of alcohol instead. In other words, by artificially reducing the use of marijuana in this country, we are artificially increasing the level of alcohol use—and all of the problems that go along with that use. So what are some of the real-world ramifications of this practice? To begin our assessment, it seems only appropriate that we look to MTV’s long-running reality show The Real World, which since 1992 has purported to demonstrate what happens when young Americans “stop being polite and start getting real.” Yet there is something decidedly unreal about the social lives of the show’s cast members. In more than twenty seasons, including more than 140 cast members representing the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-old demographic, viewers have never once witnessed anyone chilling on the couch after taking a hit off a joint or a bong. Instead, season after season, cast members—including the under-twenty-one housemates—drink to their hearts’ content. Viewers have seen drunken young women performing in public like strippers and they have witnessed inebriated male and female cast members engaging in random sexual hookups. Excessive drinking on the set has frequently led to heated arguments among castmates, fights, abusive language, and overly aggressive actions toward women. In some cases, these actions have even led to arrests. Hangovers and blackouts on The Real World are just a fact of life. Yet despite all of this alcohol-fueled debauchery, there is no indication that the show’s producers have ever considered taking steps to reduce cast members’ alcohol intake—even though two housemates ultimately entered rehab for alcoholism during the filming of the show. If anything, it seems as if the prevalence of alcohol-fueled episodes on the show have increased over time—as has the proliferation of alcohol-inducing play things like pool tables and hot tubs—to the point where one could only assume that producers are encouraging the use of booze. This was undoubtedly the case when they arranged for the suitemates in The Real World: Las Vegas to work for a nightclub and even serve cocktails. Is the real world exactly like The Real World? Well, no. First of all, surveys indicate that residents of the real world often use marijuana and typically have ready access to it. In addition, most people have actual responsibilities that diminish their ability to get shit-faced six or seven nights a week. These two points aside, however, the comparison is spot-on. We live in a society that has created something of an intoxication-related balloon effect. The balloon effect describes a situation where the proactive prohibition of one action produces a similar counter-action—like when you squeeze one end of a balloon, you simply shift air to the other end. This analogy is often applied to efforts to eradicate illegal drug crops in South America or Afghanistan. For instance, if authorities exert pressure to try to eliminate the cultivation of coca crops in Columbia, production will simply increase in Peru or some other nation. In the real world, like on The Real World, we exist within a society where pressure is being applied to the marijuana end of the balloon. As a result, air is shifted to the alcohol end, and its use has expanded. In the rest of this chapter, we will take a look at what this expansion has wrought…
In my first "On Marijuana" column, I described the need to refer to law enforcement as the “Arrest and Prosecution Industry.”  While I didn’t plan to return to the same subject in my second column, recent events have compelled me to revisit the topic.  My last column was theory; this one is practice. Just over a week ago, a man named Chris Bartkowicz in Highlands Ranch, Colorado made a questionable (at best) PR move.  He agreed to be interviewed by a local television station about his medical marijuana grow operation.  Granted, he believed he was in compliance with state law and had no reason to fear prosecution.  But, come on, dude.  It’s one thing to make six figures growing marijuana in your home for patients; it’s quite another to advertise it on television.  It’s like putting a “Home Invasions Encouraged” sign on your door. What Bartkowicz wasn’t expecting – if he was really thinking things through at all – was that the DEA would show up the next day at his house, take all of his plants, and forward his case to the U.S. Attorney, who subsequently filed charges carrying a 5- to 40-year prison sentence.  This, despite the fact that the Obama administration has instructed U.S. Attorneys not to prosecute individuals who comply with state medical marijuana laws. Was Bartkowicz in compliance with state law?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  By the DEA’s admission, he was a caregiver for at least 12 patients, which would allow him to have 72 marijuana plants.  The complaint – available on this page as a pdf – alleges that he had 224 plants, more than 100 of which were “clones” or “starter” plants; the others were “in various stages with root systems.”  So what we are talking about here is a matter of degree.  If someone can legally grow marijuana for patients, but exceeds the allowable number – perhaps for fear that some plants would not mature or perhaps because they felt more patients would need help before the plants matured – is it an intelligent use of taxpayer dollars to raid, prosecute and imprison this person for 40 years? The truth is, as discussed in my last column, the DEA is not concerned with using taxpayer dollars intelligently.  They are merely focused on using taxpayer dollars.  Cases like this demonstrate that they are no better than ambulance-chasing lawyers.  They see an “accident” on television and they run like two-dollar hookers to keep themselves busy and make a couple bucks.  Why waste your time investigating people manufacturing meth when you can look up a medical marijuana grower on the Internet (which the DEA acknowledges in their complaint was a major part of their “investigation”) and raid his house? And now the media is even helping the DEA advertise for clients.  Inciting fears of possible house fires from marijuana growing, the DEA has launched a new campaign to fight this “menace.”  In addition to dutifully reporting on this “danger,” the media helped steer business to the DEA by publishing this advice from George Morkovin, of the Denver Fire Department:
Morkovin said additional regulations are needed to protect residents from these marijuana fires, but until that happens, he recommends notifying authorities if someone believes a grow is taking place next door.
How convenient.  With this information, the DEA won’t even need to waste time looking up an address.  They can just use Google Maps and they’re on their way. They no longer deserve to be called the Drug Enforcement Administration.  They are simply the Drug Employment Administration, keeping themselves busy by raiding people who are not raising the ire of state authorities, but are merely trying to cultivate marijuana so that there is an adequate supply for the tens of thousands of registered patients in the state. Fortunately, we have rock star advocates like Brian Vincente of Sensible Colorado calling out the DEA and the U.S. Attorney on their true motivations. (This is just one quote from Vicente in an interview in which he simply shreds law enforcement):
"I think the U.S. Attorney and the DEA view marijuana laws as a continuing employment act. It gives them something to do, and they're afraid that if they were to recognize the will of the voters, they'd be out of work. So I question the motivation for prosecuting these kinds of individuals. I think it's driven by their own need for job security."
Word. Steve Fox is the director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, August 2009).
As I launch what I intend to be a continuing series of updates from the front lines of the battle to change our nation’s marijuana laws, I want to take a moment to thank Alternet for inviting me to participate on the SpeakEasy platform. I am excited to be part of the stable of contributors and have high hopes for the blog. Just to give you a little background about myself, I am currently the director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest organization (more than three dozen full-time employees) dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. In this role, I coordinate the organization’s ballot initiative work. Previously, from 2002-2005, I lobbied Congress for MPP. I am also a co-founder of the organization Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009). With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to meat of the first “On Marijuana” column. What I would like to do with these columns is give you a real look inside the marijuana policy reform movement. Instead of merely reporting on important developments, I will put them in context and help you see the big picture and the strategy behind the moves of reformers. You may be thinking, “Hold on! You can’t let your opponents know your strategy!” Well, here is the good news. It doesn’t matter if our opponents know our strategy. They are not only full of crap, but they are also incapable of actually fighting back intelligently against us. We have far more to gain by sharing our strategy and getting millions of new people – like you – on message, than we have to lose by letting our opponents in on our “secrets.” This column itself serves as an example. Today, we are going to talk about law enforcement. For too long, the media and elected officials have stood firmly behind members of law enforcement, from police officers to district attorneys, as they claimed that they were making our communities safer by arresting and prosecuting individuals for using marijuana. "It's a gateway drug,” they assert. (Bull-pucky, according to every legitimate study of the matter.) It would send the wrong message to children, they whine. (After which they head home and ask their kids to bring them a beer.) The truth is that law enforcement officials know the use of marijuana is not a major source of societal problems. Oh, sure, some people might use marijuana too much and this might be considered a social problem – similar to the overuse of video games. But it is not even in the same league as alcohol, which, by the federal government’s own figures, is linked to 25-30 percent of all violent crimes in the U.S. and is a factor in two-thirds of acts of violence between intimates. (The relative harms of marijuana and alcohol on the streets -- and in homes -- is the theme of former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper's foreword in Marijuana is Safer.) Law enforcement officials know this, yet far too many of them continuously and consistently argue that we need to punish adults who use marijuana instead of alcohol. Let me emphasize those last two points. They know that individuals are more likely to be violent if they drink alcohol instead of using marijuana, but they do everything in their power to make sure the only legal option for adults is alcohol. So they clearly don’t care about public safety. What on earth could their motivation be? Plain and simple. They are motivated by self-interest. Their very jobs depend on a steady stream of arrests and prosecutions. And marijuana users are their cash cow, with arrests totaling a staggering 847,863 in 2008. As long as the marijuana arrests keep coming, so do their paychecks. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a law enforcement official explaining why we need to “protect our streets” from this “dangerous drug.” Fortunately, the marijuana policy reform movement is starting to fight back. Two weeks ago, SAFER launched a campaign targeting members of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, who had been lobbying the Colorado state legislature to effectively shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. [I have provided a link to their Web site, but only to prove that it has been disabled due to SAFER’s efforts.] Labeling CDIA a shameless member of the “Arrest and Prosecution Industry,” SAFER sent out an alert slamming them for trying to make patients suffer in order to protect their own jobs. SAFER also called for a boycott of Starbucks, which was listed as a sponsor on the CDIA site. This led to the site, which also included promotional items showing how “cool” the war on drugs is, being pulled down. One week later, MPP joined in the fun, releasing a television ad mocking District Attorney Richard Gammick in Washoe County, Nevada and accusing him of not caring about public safety. The ad mentioned the association between alcohol and violence, made the point that marijuana use is not associated with violence, and asked the district attorney why he thinks it is appropriate to punish adults who choose to use the safer substance. This is only the beginning. From now on, members of law enforcement -- check that, I mean the Arrest and Prosecution Industry -- need to be ready during their television appearances to explain how it is making our communities safer to steer adults away from marijuana and toward alcohol. And you can do your part, too. If you find yourself in a conversation with a representative from the Arrest and Prosecution Industry, ask the same question. They can only lie for so long.